How to: Live in a Hotel with a Toddler

Parks are our favorite for getting wiggles out!

A few months back, a friend’s apartment was damaged by fire and her family ended up in an extended-stay hotel for a month or so until they could get back on their feet. She asked me for tips on how to live in hotels with a toddler. Here I will share them with you. Aside from brief times at grandparents’ houses, we have been living in hotels for over a year now. “Living” in a hotel is different from vacationing and staying at a hotel. On vacation, there are plenty of activities and attractions to stay busy all day, and it isn’t always to keep toddlers on a routine for vacation. My definition for “living” in a hotel is staying in a location for longer than a week or two and trying to establish some sort of normalcy in said location. Here are my survival tips for LIVING in a hotel:

Railroad museum in the Netherlands-
Our hotel room was so small that
we went on excursions a few times
a week!

1. Get OUT of the room in the morning: At a home, there is plenty of space to roam and morning routines can take a few hours, but within an hour of waking in a hotel room, my son is ready to get out and move! In the summer and good weather, this means finding a park or green space to run and roam and explore. I typically roll this in with my morning exercise, so I will run or fast walk to the park of my choosing, take a little rest while he plays and digs in the dirt and does all the things little boys love to do (and can typically do in their own backyard), then run/walk back. In the winter and bad weather, we try to find indoor places to roam. This may include the library, malls, indoor play places, children’s museums, aquariums, normal museums, indoor pools, really anything with a roof and space inside to move works! The goal is to have the toddler moving and getting tired. I know the consequences of not taking this advice- broken stuff in the hotel room. It happens, but it is rather frustrating!

Free lounge food is great!

2. Take advantage of the free food: Usually, breakfast is included in the room rate. The variety of food offerings varies, but typically there is something a kid will eat! Some extended stays even have “cocktail hour” or “hors d’oevres” that could really qualify as enough food for an evening meal. If you accrue enough hotel points, there are evening snacks and a meal in the executive lounges of major hotel chains. With limited tools with which to make good meals, it is always nice to have free food there for everyone to munch on! Everyone knows that going out to dinner every night with a toddler is torture!

3. Keep up the normal routine: I know this isn’t possible every day, but kids like to know what is going to happen next. It makes them feel smart and happy. Living in a new place is enough of a change that keeping everything else the same really helps them adjust. Our routine involves active play and running around in the morning, followed by lunch, nap (sometimes), then we focus on learning something for a few minutes. We might play a game with letter recognition, learn about lightning and thunder, or count stuff. If I was better at thinking on my feet and creating learning experiences all of the time, we wouldn’t have to have time set aside. At least this way, I schedule it out of my day so that we can have some learning time together. After that, it’s free play time with toys/short walk outside until daddy gets home from work, then dad takes over with rough play and we tell him everything we did that day. Dinner, bath, books, prayers, bed. Every day. That being said, sometimes our morning outings are a little more involved, and we might have lunch and continue with our outing after lunch. Sometimes he doesn’t nap, sometimes we play learning games in the morning, and sometimes he doesn’t take a bath at night (but really, he usually does because he’s filthy and smells like BOY!)

Occasional stroller naps are totally OK!

4. Lunch in the room or pack a picnic: Trying to wrangle a toddler in an enclosed, public restaurant-type space for three meals a day is something no parent should ever have to face. As soon as we arrive in a new location, I head to the store for crackers, dried fruit, nuts, fresh fruit, snack bars, a fruit knife, sturdy disposable plates and silverware, cup of noodles, ham or hot dogs, cheese (if available), peanut butter, jelly and bread. That way, we have a wide variety of things to eat for lunch without having to scrounge or head to fast food. I am partial to having oatmeal with a little peanut butter and raisins mixed in for lunch. Some other more adult options include: tuna salad or sandwiches, yogurt and granola, meat sandwiches, or green salads (depending on location). If we are going out for a long excursion, I make sure to pack plenty of snacks and then plan on finding something more substantial to eat for lunch, or we pack sandwiches. Having snacks is key to making sure that toddler meltdowns don’t occur out of hunger when you are stuck in an unfamiliar place and can’t find food.

5. Baby/toddler proof ASAP: Kids destroy things. Instead of waiting to see what mischief they will create, we try to arrange things in such a way as to eliminate expensive add-ons to the hotel bill. For example, in our current hotel, our son was conveniently napping when we checked in. We put him down in bed and immediately took the glass top off the coffee table and hid it behind the couch. We put away breakable decorations and found space to hide our luggage so he wouldn’t get into it. With an almost-three-year-old, we didn’t do power outlet covers this time, but we have in the past. Tall table lamps will get knocked over, so it is just best to hide them somewhere high.

Hotel room Easter egg hunt in Brussels. Landon still talks about it!

6. Have a few toys and books on hand to fill the time: We have most of our books on Kindle, but we always bring 5-6 real paper books with us for him to look through if he needs a quiet moment. Landon is all about the transportation at this age, so all of his toys are either blocks or vehicles. You’ll quickly find that you don’t need a ton of toys to keep kids happy! He plays pretend with the pillows and cushions all the time, making cars, trains, garages, boats and whatever else he thinks up that day. We try to keep our toys very compact and pack-able. Once we get to our destination, Landon can earn new toys for doing various things or for good behavior.

7. Electronic devices are a great resource, but be careful with time limits: Our son has a tablet for long airplane rides. I don’t let him use it very much otherwise. It is a great resource for bad weather days, and for learning games, so we will get it out a few times a week for 20-30 minutes. I sit with him and we work through learning games. He will honestly sit there and do his tablet/watch TV for hours if I let him, and if I’m sick or very tired it is a great tool to have to save yourself and your room from the wrath of the toddler. However, I do notice a decrease in good behavior after he has spent too much time with his electronics. Although a great resource, nothing is as good for a toddler as getting outside and exploring at their own pace!

Hiking as a family in Korea

8. Take advantage of neat experiences in your area: Along with plenty of park time and play time, we try to go on one excursion a week to a new place that the whole family can enjoy. Whether it be an art museum with boats outside, a zoo or a children’s museum, it breaks up the time and the monotony of being in an enclosed space. Free options include hikes in new areas or picnics and kites. Just get out there and explore! Every so often when we are out and about in the stroller, I find a safe space for Landon to roam and he takes a break from the stroller and runs around for awhile.


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